Cultural Differences between Australia and South Korea
The Eastern Hemisphere's Middle Powers
"Australia and Korea are both middle powers in a world where new mega powers are rapidly emerging, both countries would have much to gain from being ''true friends''. As Rudd stated at Peking University, ''A strong relationship, and a true friendship, are built on the ability to engage in a direct, frank and ongoing dialogue about our fundamental interests and future vision.'' - HYANG-A KIM 2008
China 25.7%, US 12.3%, Japan 6.8%, Hong Kong 4.5%, Taiwan 4.1% (2007)
Japan 19.6%, China 12.3%, South Korea 7.5%, US 6.2%, India 5.5%, NZ 5.5%, UK 5% (2006)
In the 20th century, Chinese, Russians and Americans saw Korea as a strategic battleground in their quest for regional power. After liberating Korea from Japanese occupation in 1945, it was divided at the 38th parallel in accordance with a United Nations arrangement, to be administered by the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south. In 1948, each foreign power backed the establishment of a government that claimed to be the legimate government of all Korea. In 1950 the north, backed by Russia and China, attacked the south, backed by the US and the UN. By 1953, the war had reached a stalemate. Millions of lives had been lost and Koreans had been turned against Koreans.
With the aid of US loans, South Korea developed a free-market economy. Meanwhile, the nth stagnated under communism. In 1997 foreign powers again pushed South Koreans around when currency speculators attacked the South Korean economy for their own personal profit.
Unlike Korea, Australia has never been used as a battleground between foreign powers. Prior to the English, Australia was discovered by Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spanish, Indonesians, and the Chinese; however, the countries looked around the barren landscape populated by nomads and decided Australia had nothing of value.
When the British discovered Australia in 1772, they decided it would make a great dumping ground for criminals. In 1788, the first load of criminals was dumped in Sydney. Convicts continued to be sent to Australia for a further 80 years. France discovered different parts of Australia, but acted like the other foreign countries by deciding that Australia had nothing of value.
In World War II, mainland Australia was bombed by Japan and the Australian territory of Papua New Guinea was invaded. After the war was complete, the fear of another Asian invasion led to Australia forming close military alliances with the United States. To affirm Australia’s commitment to the alliance, Australia supported America as it supported South Korea in its war against the communists from the north.
In 1997, Australia's economy was also attacked by foreign currency speculators; however, it proved more resilient than the South Korean economy and subsequently emerged relatively unscathed.
Attitude to Korean War
The Korean War obviously looms large in the consciousness of contemporary South Koreans. Despite the fact that Australia also fought in the war for three years, the Vietnamese war holds a far greater place in Australian consciousness.
The difference may be attributed to scale of Australia’s involvement. 17,000 Australians served in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. 339 Australians died and 1200 were wounded. Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the Vietnamese War between 1962 and 1970. 521 died and 3,000 were wounded. With almost twice the involvement in the Vietnamese war, it would be expected that more people remember the Vitenamese war. That said, for the 17,000 Australians who fought in Korea, their time was significant.
The difference may also be attributed to the outcome. Because the Korean War ended in a stalemate, Australian soldiers could not celebrate a heroic victory as they could as a result of their involvement in the defeat of Germany and Japan. Admittedly, as a result of the coalition force, South Korea was able to develop into a free market democracy. In that regard, it was a victorious war.
Perhaps the most plausible explanation for the lack of consciousness is that the political situation of Australia in the years following World War 2 has been one in which some Australians have wanted Australian soldiers to lose. There are many Australians who don’t want Australian soldiers to be fighting wars in foreign countries. The outcome of Vietnam provides a justification not to get involved. The outcome of the Korean War provides a justification to get involved. Admittedly, Korea would never have been divided in the first place, and never have had a war, if foreign countries had stayed out. Same goes with Vietnam. Nevertheless, some good came out of Australia’s involvement in the Korean war and this erodes that moral justification for Australia to pursue an isolationist policy.
South Korean men are required to perform just over two years of national service in the military. During their service, they may be beaten up by their commanding officers, be required to perform extremely demanding physical tasks and be required to affirm their love for their country. Although most Koreans hate national service at the time they are doing it, it provides them with stories that they fondly remember and talk about for life.
Australia does not have national service and attempts to introduce it have always been divisive. In World War 1, the Australian government tried to introduce conscription. This led to division between Australians whose loyalty was to Britain and Australians whose loyalty was to Australia or Ireland.
In 1916, the Government held a referendum to give itself the power to conscript Australians and send them to war. An anti-conscription poster said at the time:
Captalists, Parsons, Politicians,
Landlords, Newspaper Editors, and
Other Stay-at-Home Patriots
your country needs
in the trenches
Follow your Masters"
Australia voted no. In 1917, the Government again held a referendum on conscription, but censored any advertisements that promoted the no case. Australia voted no again. The majority of volunteer soldiers fighting in the war also voted no.
In World War II, the government introduced conscription but limited it to the defence of Australia in the pacific. Because it involved protecting Australia against a Japanese invasion, it was accepted without much protest.
In 1951, conscription was introduced during the Korean War. All Australian males aged 18 had to register for 176 days of training and five years of service in the central military force. The system ended in 1959. In 1964, conscription was again introduced, and conscripts were sent to fight in Vietnam in support of America battling a communist insurgency. Because it involved forcing Australians to die in a foreign country, it provoked a violent backlash that led to intense social division on Australian streets. Conscription was banned by the Australian parliament in 1972.
South Koreans are raised to be nationalistic. Part of the nationalism stems from the compulsory national service required of South Korean men. Part of the nationalism stems from the fact that they are still at war with the north. Part of the nationalism stems from a desire to prove they are different from Japan and China.
Australians are not raised to be nationalistic. Australia has always suffered from a social schism between government-funded institutions and the wider Australian society. This schism has made a sense of national unity very difficult to create. The government-funded institutions have historically favoured British, then multicultural conceptions of the Australian identity and thus denounced Australian patriotism. In return, Australian patriots have denounced the “elitism” coming from the institutions.
Glen Murcutt - Kempsey shorthouse
To outsiders, South Korea’s traditional culture looks Chinese and its modern culture looks Japanese. However, South Koreans assertively argue that their culture, both traditional and modern, is unique.
In regards to traditional culture, Koreans talk of “Korean Confucianism”, “Korean Buddism” and “Korean Martial arts.” For Koreans, it is important to believe that their traditional culture either originated in Korea or was shaped in Korea.
In Australia, it is difficult to talk of cultural uniqueness and expect other Australians to share the sentiments. For many Australians, Australian culture does not exist, there is nothing unique about Australia and Australia has no need for a national identity. Ironically, such a view is a uniquely Australian thing to say. No other country in the world has a significant segment of the population openly expressing their hostility to the notion that their country might have a culture.
Korean culture is hierarchical. In companies and in general life, there are clear hierarchies in status based on age, title, and income. For example, it is perfectly acceptable for a 30-year-old to be rude to a 28-year-old on the basis of age superiority. Koreans believe the hierarchical thinking is a Confucius legacy. It may also stem from the hierachial nature of their language that encourages them to think in a status-concious way.
Australia is not a hierarchical society. Most Australians like the idea of a labourer being able to sit down and have a beer with the Queen and seeing her as different but his equal. For example, the trucking magnate Lindsay Fox (net worth $350 million in 1999) said of Australia:
'We don't have a class structure. We have people who relate to people. No body is superior. No body is inferior. The people who I went to school with collect the garbage around here. But if they want to come in and have a drink, that's fine with me.'
The egalitarian sentiments are reflected in Australian English. Australians may refer to some foreigners as "mate" instead of using more respectful titles such as your honour, sir, madam, mrs, mr, ms, lord, and your highness. Likewise, cricketer Dennis Lillee expressed his egalitarian sentiments when he greeted Queen Elizabeth using the words: "G'day, how ya goin'?"
The egalitarian sentiments probably grew out of Australia’s penal foundations. For a variety of reasons, freed Convicts saw themselves as equal or superior to their ex-masters. Their ex-masters didn't agree, which in turn created a social schism that has never been resolved. Even today, the word "elites" is used as an insult and elitist thinking is widely deemed to be defective thinking. Those who express elitist thinking often feel disconnected from the group and complain of a "tall-poppy syndrome."
Koreans believe they have a Confucian value system. Although Confucianism means different things to different people around the world, to Koreans it means respect for superiors and parents, duty to the family, loyalty to friends, humility, sincerity and courtesy.
Aside from being justified with Confucianism, Korean values are justified with the dogma of organised religions. 29 per cent of South Koreans cite themselves as Christians. Like Confucianism, Christianity means different things to different people around the world and attracts people for different reasons. For Koreans, part of the attraction seems to be that it is associated with Korean nationalism. In the 18th century, Christians started having the bible written in Korea's indigenous Hangul writing system, which at that stage was deemed inferior to Chinese script. The nationalistic credentials were further reinforced in the 1930s when Christians refused to worship the Japanese emperor as a god, as required by Korean law. These nationalistic assocations have helped Koreans overcome concerns about Christianity's foreign origins. The actual religion probably appeals because it provides an escape from the pressures of Korea's hierachical society and preaches an ethic of forgiveness. It might also appeal because it is a religion that is seen to be conducive to making money.
22 per cent of South Koreans cite themselves as Buddhist.
In the 16th century, Buddhist monks helped fight a Japanese invasion, which in turn caused the religion to prosper. Koreans see their version of Buddism as being unique.
Australia's value system is primarily Christian and Marxist based. 64 per cent of Australians identify themselves as Christians. In Australia, Christianity seems to mean helping others and it finds expression in the charity work of organisations like the Salvation Army.
Marxist thought has found great popularity in universities. Marxist dogma has some parallels with the Australian Christian ethic of helping the poor except it believes governments, rather than community organisations like the Salvation Army, must take the lead. Marxism has probably taken hold because it fits with egalitarian values that Australians like.
Australian supporters of Marxist dogma have a strong dislike of Christianity. For example, left-wing icon Gough Whitlam defined his philosophy as "post Christian." Furthermore, for World Youth Day 2008, fundamentalist athiests took to Australia's streets to try to save the Christians from their religion.
Buddhism is the largest religion after Christianity. In 2001, 1.9 per cent of the Australian population defined themselves as Buddhists. Unlike Christianity, it seems to appeal to the Marxists as it carries an image of enlightened monks who don’t care about material wealth.
Koreans like their barbeques. Usually, the barbeque operates in a restaurant in which hot coals are placed in the centre of the table and an overhead vacuum sucks fumes away. An assortment of sliced meats and vegetables are then cooked as people sit around the table and talk/drink.
In Australia, the barbeque usually happens outside in people’s backyards or in a park. There are clear separations of gender during the cooking process. The men will stand around the barbeque and do the cooking while the women will gather inside and prepare the salads or side dishes. Once the meat is ready, both genders will come together.
South Koreans love soccer. It is the only team sport that has a significant following. In Australia, the most popular spectator sports for men are Australian football, cricket, rugby league, soccer and rugby union. For women, the popular sports are netball (women's basketball) and basketball.
South Koreans love computer games. An estimated 18 million South Koreans, more than one-third of the country's 48 million people, play video games online. The immense popularity of computer games has given rise to professional computer game players who can earn up to $200,000 a year in salary, command 100,000 people in a fan club and play in soccer stadiums in front of 80,000 screaming fans.
Australia does not have a professional computer gamer culture.
Koreans love karaoke. For men, the favoured songs are slow love ballads that express their tearful emotions for a special woman. The men sing these songs even before they’ve had a girlfriend. In a way, karaoke with Koreans can be a depressing experience. One slow love ballad follows another then another.
Although Koreans sing in a karaoke box with friends, in Australia, karaoke is usually sung in bars in front of strangers. The idea of a karaoke box is still relatively unknown. At the bar, Australians sing an eclectic range of songs ranging from Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams or Cold Chiesel. Slow love ballads are rare, probably because a heckler from the crowd would call the singer a sissy.
Korean drama has proved immensely popular all over Asia. The dramas typically involve conflicts in marital relationships, money bargaining, relationships between in-laws or complicated love triangles.
Australian dramas have proved popular in England but not in many other markets. Dramas such Neighbours and Home & Away portray happy neighbourhoods populated by good looking teenagers and their loving families.
Koreans yearn for love. For example, during karaoke, Koreans sing heartfelt love ballads that allow them to express the deepness of their heart. Likewise, when watching dramas and movies, Koreans love being taken away in romantic plot lines that bring their emotions to the surface. Ironically, despite yearning for love with all their heart, most Koreans end up in loveless marriages. One problem is that Korean men usually prize beauty above all other qualities, and Korean women value money above other qualities. Inevitably, when men marry for beauty and women marry for money, the men stray when the beauty fades, and the women want something else when they have the man's money. Another problem is arranged marriages. In Korea, a marriage is often seen as a union between families so parents choose the partner for their children. This often results in a marriage between two people that don't like each other. A final problem is abstinence from sex before marriage. Either to conform to Korean Christian values or to fulfil the dream of a perfect wedding night, many Koreans choose to hold onto their virginity. Unfortunately, once the special night is over, Koreans wonder what other people are like and may stray to find out.
Australians are perhaps more promiscuous than South Koreans before marriage but less promiscuous after marriage. If Australians do stray, either with a prostitute or a lover, they rarely let anyone know. Australian marriages are more based on the friendship between two people. Money is not so important for Australian women because they are capable of earning as much money as men, and prior to the age of 30, actually have higher incomes on average than men. Likewise, as a culture, Australia doesn’t value beauty as much as Korea, which gives Australian men comparatively more freedom to marry women who are not physically perfect.
Like America, Korea makes lots of teenage movies in the tradition of American Pie (1999). One of the most successful was Wet Dreams (2002). Australia doesn’t seem to make such movies. Perhaps one exception was Puberty Blues (1982). Although Puberty Blues had its funny bits, it was a different kind of humour and arguably a form of social commentary. In other words, it was not meant to be just a funny movie.
Wet dreams (2002)
Wet Dreams 2 (2005)
Sex is Zero (2002)
Puberty Blues (1982)
Both South Korea and Australia have a strong work ethic. In 2004, South Koreans worked an average of 2390 hours per year. This was significantly more than most Europeans who only worked an average of around 1350 hours per year. The motivation to work hard can be partly explained by South Korea's goal to become more powerful. Because Korea has been pushed around in the past by foreign countries, Koreans want to be stronger to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The motivation to work hard can also be explained by the hierarchical nature of Korean culture. Individual Koreans feel that they need to work harder to gain a better title or more money otherwise they are worthless.
In 2005, Australians worked an average of 1855 hours a year. This was less than South Korea but more than Japan. The motivation for Australians to work hard is more difficult to explain. Australians don’t really care about making their country more powerful and the egalitarian nature of Australian society means Australians can feel a sense of self-worth even if they lack a title or wealth. The motivation to work hard probably comes from the same motivation to play sport and succeed in sport. Specifically, personal pride.
Night out in Sydney
South Korea is trying to set itself up as the eastern hemisphere's middle power that brings the region together. As a result, South Koreans have invested heavily in English language tuition. In partnership with Australia, they also conceived and initiated APEC.
South Korea is unlikely to achieve its objectives because it is suffering political and cultural disputes with its close neighbours that it seems unable to resolve. With Japan, Korea is in dispute over the name of the Sea of Japan. Koreans argue that it should be called East Sea. Koreans are also in dispute over the Dokdo islands (Takeshima in Japan.) The Koreans say they own them. The Japanese do not agree. With China, Korea is in dispute over cultural heritage. Some Koreans argue that much of China’s traditional culture, such as Confucianism, came from Korea. The Chinese do not agree and don't like the idea of Koreans trying to steal their culture. With North Korea, South Korea is still at war. Unlike the former West Germany, South Korea has been unable to bridge the divide with its communist brother.
The disputes felt at a political level are also played out at a community level. Koreans in China and Japan have a tendency to form ethnic ghettos. The local population doesn’t like them and they don’t like the local population. The problem for Korea is that it is a nationalistic and mono-cultural society that is not experienced in cross-cultural relations. Furthermore, few nations tolerate hierarchical values being expressed by foreigners in their country. Because South Koreans are accustomed to hierarchical thinking, they are often viewed as impolite when they express their hierarchical thinking in foreign countries. For example, although a Chinese waitress will accept hierarchical values being expressed by a Chinese customer, they will not accept them being expressed by a South Korean in their country.
Even though Australia is not an Asian country and most Australians know very little about Asia, it is more likely to bring the region together than is South Korea. Australia's strength is that it is one of only two countries in the eastern hemisphere to have a significant migration program. Cities such as Sydney are being flooded with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and Vietnamese migrants. In Australia, the Asian migrants are being forced to get over their historical or cultural barriers and form relationships. Whereas Koreans are not mixing with Chinese in China, they are mixing with Chinese in Australia. In turn, they are making Australians more literate about Asia.
One of the barriers to Australia bringing the region together is that Asians view Australians in quite a negative way. The general consensus is that Australians are lazy, uncultured, unrefined, ill-mannered, have poor sexual morality, and have nothing to offer except a good welfare system. The ridicule that is expressed at a community level is also expressed at a political level. For example, after an encounter with protesters, ex-Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said:
“Australians are the poor white trash of Asia.”
Likewise, after an unsavoury encounter with Australia’s prime minister Paul Keating, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, said:
"We can't do anything. If people have no manners, I mean children we can smack them [laughs] I think that a whole nation, or there generally is one nation who have no manners. It's very difficult, who resort to personal vilification and all that"
It is not only politics where friction has been felt. After an encounter with the Australian cricket team, Sri Lankan cricket captain Ajuna Rantaunga,
"We come from 2,500 years of culture and we all know where they come from".
Because Asian countries are in the habit of disliking every country except their own, there is nothing unique about being insulted by Asians. However, Australia is unique in the eastern hemisphere because Australians are far more capable of dealing with the insults than are Asians. The above comments would be water off a duck's back for most Australians and would in no way stop Australians extending the hand of friendship. (When they were made, they didn't even cause a ripple in Australia.)
The above insults were actually very mild in comparison to the insults directed at Australia by Australians. Australia’s elites have long insulted Australians for playing too much sport, being racist, not giving elites respect, being culturally ignorant, celebrating mateship, celebrating Anzac Day as well as an assortment of other obscure ideas that become flavour of the month in the humanities. Being criticised, either fairly or unfairly, is just a part of Australian life.
While Australians are relatively capable of ignoring insults or laughing at them, Asian cultures are more likely to react to an insult on their country by shutting down and boycotting the country that made the insult. It is a mentality that inevitably results in lots of Asian countries boycotting each other and being unable to work through their differences. A similar mentality has kept Nth Korea and South Korea at war long after they should have reconciled their differences.
Activity 1 - Watch Gangnam Style by Psy
Does the video contain any features that you would not expect to find in an Australian pop video?
The video is mostly in Korea, but has some words in English. Come up with three suggestions for why it does this.
Do a gangnam style dance
It is estimated that the average Korean pop star has had around $500,000 invested in them to ensure they meet aspirations of perfection. As a result, they know how to dance, can speak multiple languages, work out in the gym and have had any body faults corrected with plastic surgery. The gangnam style video does not always seem to meet this ideal of perfection. What aspects of Gangnam style are less than perfect and how might this appeal in a culture seeking perfection?
Activity 2 - Soft power of the middle powers
Activity purpose - Find aspects of Korea and Australian culture that appeal to outsiders
Both South Korea and Australia are middle-powers. This means that to assert their national interests, they either need to come under the wing of a strong country like America or China, collaborate with likeminded smaller countries, or develop appealing cultures to assert their “soft power.”
Arguably, Australia has been more effective than Korea at collaborating with other nations or coming under the wing of powerful countries like America and Britain. Korea has been more effective with its soft power.
Korean drama is popular all over Asia. Look at some episodes and decide why it may appeal.
In 2012, a Korean musician Psy, had the first video to reach 1 billion views on Youtube. Watch the video and decide why it held such appeal.
Search for elements of Australian culture that you think could be used in soft power campaigns in Asia. Why do you think they would appeal?